Friday, March 9, 2012
Book Review - Lisa Abend's The Sorcerer's Apprentices
In January of 2010, Ferran Adria announced he would be closing his restaurant, elBulli. News that the world's most famous chef was closing what many considered to be the world's greatest restaurant shook the culinary world. It came as a surprise to most, but Lisa Abend, a journalist based in Madrid, Spain, had received an early warning, though she did not know it at the time. Abend wanted to write a book that explored why food, once viewed only as sustenance, had captured the imagination of the public. To that end, she went to Adria, explained her intent and was granted unprecedented access to elBulli and the talents that had made it culinary mecca. She spent the season of 2009 at the restaurant, watching the operation and interviewing members of the staff. At the heart of her tale are the stagiaires, whose stories and interactions with senior staff unveil the creative process as it works in this restaurant. A stage is a training program, much like an apprenticeship, and at elBulli it lasts for one season. Each year, approximately 30 men and women are chosen from an applicant pool of 3000. Those who make it to elBulli will work 14 hours a day and, in return, receive a place to sleep and one meal a day. They receive no salary. While a few of the stagiaires come directly from culinary school, the others are experienced chefs who have put their lives on hold to learn and watch the master at work. Their experience and backgrounds are varied and their personalities are as different as the countries from which they come. Their challenges, interactions and aspirations bring this tale to life. I suspect that those of you who love food and cooking will enjoy this book. Abend is a more a reporter than a storyteller so there is an emotional detachment in her book that some might find off-putting. If, however, you'd like a look behind the scenes at the operations of elBulli and want to see the creative process of a master at work, you will love this book. I heartily recommend it. The Sorcerer's Apprentices is now available in paperback.
While I received a free copy of The Sorcerer's Apprentices from Simon and Schuster, the opinions in this post are my own.